SMITHFIELD – The Johnston County Public School Board approved a new fiscal year budget proposal Tuesday night but not without some controversy. During budget discussions, board member Ronald Johnson recommended cutting 23 jobs at the Central Office and reclassifying five other positions to a lower pay grade. The job cuts would save about $1.7 million annually and the reclassifications another $150,000.
The board voted unanimously to approve the $76,423,852 budget, a reduction of $2,731,740 from Dr. Ben Williams original spending plan. The proposed 2020-2021 budget request is up 11.5% over the current fiscal year. Fund are included for a raise of up to three percent for teachers.
Mr. Johnson said he believed his job cut recommendations were part of the adopted budget.
However, board member Mike Wooten said the job cuts were not part of what was approved, rather a “recommendation” by the board to let the new superintendent, once hired and in place, lead the central office reorganization. “This was a recommendation that needs to be analyzed by the new superintendent and the board,” Wooten said. “We are working to save in many areas… we continue to work to be efficient and that takes time…”
Board Chairman Todd Sutton, who presided over the online meeting, said Wednesday, “The budget that passed with a unanimous vote does not include the additional savings that Mr. Johnson presented to the board last night.” Sutton added, ” I feel like that we all are in unison to move forward and work on obtaining the additional savings of $1.7 million over the next 12 months. A lot of time and effort went into this process and we feel that it can better position the school system for years to come.”
Johnson told Johnston County Report today, “I am still under the impression the Board of Education agreed to the 23 Central Office cuts… I was asked to identify positions in Central Office to be cut due to the Johnston County School District’s financial shortfall and meet the commitment made by this Board to protect the classroom from budgetary cuts. I presented the Board of Education with these proposed cuts and everyone expressed their support at the trimming of central office positions to better align our school budget with available funding. I was asked to present this information in open session while the budget action item was being presented. I believe that this information was delivered as intended and, as it was included within the budget presentation, these cuts should take place.”
“Again, I was asked to compile and present the information at the board meeting during the budget presentation. Everyone agreed my ideas were good and agreed these cuts needed to happen in order to better meet our budgetary constraints. We then voted after I presented the cuts on the budget proposal as presented. I thought, as I believe did others as well, that they were included in the budget based on the chain of events and commentary of my fellow board members,” Johnson said.
“However, I have been asked and believe it is appropriate to make a clarification in the interest of progress and saving the taxpayers money. The budget as it currently stands does not reflect the additional money saved by cutting these positions but the Board of Education did unanimously approve to move forward with the cuts over a 12 month period. As of this morning, I have spoken with some board members and text messaged with others who assure me these cuts will be made over the next 12 months. Specifically, I spoke with Mr. Wooten who said we all agree on moving forward with the cuts and he wanted the public to know we are saving more money than we anticipated due to these cost saving measures. However, I feel it is only appropriate I speak for myself considering there has been some misunderstanding.”
“I will give everyone the opportunity to speak for themselves but I contend the majority of the BOE, if not all, have agreed these cuts will happen over the next 12 months. I don’t want to make this adversarial because I believe the majority are on board with these measures. Again, if you have any doubt just watch the board meeting. It seems to me there is a sense of urgency and a consensus we are moving forward with the Central Office cuts,” Johnson stated.
Sutton said, “We are dedicated to making sure we run an efficient operation and will continue to move forward to capture the additional savings over the next 12 months.” He said the school board doesn’t need revote on the budget or job cuts even though there is some discrepancy about what actually transpired in Tuesday’s meeting.